Connecticut Democrat won't seek re-election after criticism of her handling of office harassment

PHOTO: Rep. Elizabeth Esty speaks at a forum to examine evidence-based violence prevention and school safety measures, March 20, 2018 in Washington. PlayNurPhoto via Getty Images
WATCH Democrat won't seek re-election amid office harassment controversy

Fighting a wave of calls for her resignation, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Connecticut Democrat, announced Monday she won't seek re-election this fall.

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"It is one of the greatest honors of my life that the people of Connecticut’s Fifth District elected me to represent them in Congress," Esty said in a statement. "However, I have determined that it is in the best interest of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek re-election."

Earlier Monday, Esty asked the House Ethics Committee to examine how she handled harassment claims against her former chief of staff.

"Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace," Esty wrote announcing her decision. "In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better. To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down."

Esty issued a statement on Twitter last week saying she was "horrified and angry" to learn of the harassment claims against her former chief of staff Tony Baker, and admitted she "failed to protect" her junior female aide – Anna Kain – who accused Baker of making death threats and physical violence. In a statement, Baker denies any physical violence.

Esty, now serving in her third term in the House of Representatives, retained Baker on her staff for several months after the allegations surfaced in May 2016, instead ordering him to get counseling as she led an internal review process to "investigate" the conduct in her office. Baker remained on the payroll until Aug. 12, 2016.

“Questions have now been raised about how this dismissal was handled, and I write to ask for an Ethics Committee review of the circumstances and a determination of whether there was any wrongdoing on my part,” Esty wrote in a letter to Reps. Susan Brooks and Ted Deutch, the chair and ranking Democrat on the panel.

In the wake of the revelations, the Hartford Courant newspaper called on Esty to resign, blasting her handling of the situation as "appalling." The National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP's campaign arm, also called on Esty to resign, as have several Connecticut Democrats.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stopped short of calling on Esty to resign, instead crediting her for taking steps to initiate an ethics inquiry.

“As Congresswoman Esty has acknowledged, her actions did not protect Ms. Kain and should have,” Pelosi, D-Calif., stated. “Congresswoman Esty has now appropriately requested an expedited review by the Ethics Committee.”

Esty says she ultimately removed Baker from her staff after learning that the claims against him were not an "isolated incident" and that he had "victimized" multiple female members of her staff. Esty then says she hired a new chief of staff, made changes to senior staff, changed employment policy, and instituted mandatory harassment training and gave him severance and helped him get a job with Sany Hook Promise, an advocacy group to prevent gun violence.

The revelations come during a session of Congress that has already seen multiple members resign over allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. all resigned their seats last year after allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct surfaced against them.

Esty indicated she will serve the duration of her term, which expires next January.

"In Congress, and workplaces across the country, we need stronger workplace protections and to provide employees with a platform to raise concerns, address problems, and work to reduce and eliminate such occurrences, in the first place," she noted. "In my final months in Congress, I will use my power to fight for action and meaningful change."

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